Football in East Hampton, though not dying, according to the sport’s energetic coach, Joe McKee, has a problem because the high school’s new enrollment numbers have kicked it up into the hard-playing, black-and-blue Conference III, whose players greatly outweigh those of East Hampton’s, on average.
The kids, and presumably most of their parents, would rather remain in Conference IV, even if it means agreeing to forgo the playoffs — a proposal the district’s athletic director, Joe Vas, has brought before the Section XI football committee, the group of officials who govern high school sports in Suffolk. Three years ago, when Mr. Vas last asked, the answer was no, prompting East Hampton to eliminate football in the fall of 2014 — only the fourth time since 1923 that the Bonackers did not field a team.
Safety is Mr. Vas’s primary concern. While the combative sport never will be completely safe, the likelihood of serious injury is considered mitigated when teams are evenly matched in size and ability. He has also proposed that a new conference, an ability-grouped Conference V, be formed. It would be made up of schools in Port Jefferson, Babylon, Hampton Bays, Southampton, and McGann-Mercy in Riverhead, whose football programs are struggling. It would cut down on travel time, too, with the fuel savings going toward outfitting the new conference’s football players with the most advanced — and safest — equipment.
Years ago, other coaches and athletic directors made a plea for western and eastern leagues in Suffolk that would take into account enrollment, ability, and geography, the dividing line being Route 112. It made sense then, and it makes sense now.